Between the Bars Pt. 07

bycarsonshepherd©

"Your name's Rylan? He was asking for you when they brought him out of surgery."

"He was?" My heart beat a wild tattoo in my chest but then clutched with doubt. "Are you sure he didn't ask for Ray? He calls me Ry sometimes and that could sound like Ray."

"No, he distinctly said Rylan. He kept asking where you were."

When I caught my breath, she smiled at me even more and I knew my gut had not let me down. "Then you know why I have to get past that guard, don't you? They won't let me in to see him, but he needs me. I need to be with him."

"Yes, you do." She glanced out of the corner of her eyes in the direction of Daniel's door, and the guard, and then she nodded as if making an important decision. "We're going to get you past that bitch. He got agitated when they said you weren't here, and he needs to be calm so he doesn't aggravate his injury. They had to sedate him. He's stable, medicated and doing well after his surgery but I know he'll be much better with you there."

As she talked, she led me down the hallway to a room around the corner. It was empty, with faint light coming from behind the drawn blinds. "Okay. Stay in here. That guard has already seen your face, so we're going to have to wait for a shift change. It shouldn't be too long, the shifts are only four hours. I'll be back."

Closing the door behind her, she left me in the dim room. I clicked on a lamp and relaxed on one of the beds. My nerves were wound just as tightly as in the interrogation room at the police station but at least the seating was more comfortable and I could rest, as much as I could not being with Daniel. It was probably about an hour before the door opened and Jennifer slipped back inside.

"Here, put this on." She tossed me a patient gown. The door opened wider and a big mountain of a man shuffled in with a gurney. His black skin was a startling contrast to the white polyester of his orderly's uniform. I stripped off my button-down since I knew it would show under the patient gown; with just a t-shirt, it looked fine. "I'll take care of the guard. Ben will stop in front of Daniel's door and you just slip off the gurney and into the room."

I hopped up on the gurney as the door clicked behind her. Carefully, Ben arranged the covers over me to hide my street clothes, only letting the patient gown peek out at the top. I closed my eyes and lay very still as he wheeled me out the door and down the hallway. He plodded slowly, too slow, dammit hurry up.

"Officer? I hate to bother you..." I heard Jennifer's voice and I slitted my eyes just enough to see that the grouchy female cop had been replaced by a handsome young recruit, very tasty in his dark uniform and buzz haircut. I hid a grin. So, that was why she'd waited for a shift change. Her soft, sweet tone wouldn't have worked on the bitch. I had to admire how she managed to sound slightly helpless without crossing the line into bimbo. "I know you're working, but they just brought some new oxygen tanks up here and I just can't get the handle turned. It's so hard that first time. Do you think I could borrow your muscles for just one little second?"

"Sure," the cop's voice answered eagerly. So easy.

Their voices faded down the hall and I tensed in anticipation. The gurney slowed and when I heard Ben mutter "Go," I tossed the covers back, jumped off the gurney and pushed the door open. I clicked it closed silently. Maybe the guard wouldn't notice and it would give me a couple of extra seconds with Daniel before they tried to throw me out.

My heart jumped in my chest when I stepped into the room and got my first look at him lying there on the hospital bed. His face was pale against the pillow, so pale. He looked so helpless draped in a hospital gown, so pale and weak. His eyes were closed and bandages swathed his shoulder, binding his arm to his body. A faint dark stain marred the white bandage where his blood had seeped through. An IV dripped something down a clear tube. For a moment, I couldn't breathe and then I closed the distance between us. I went to the left side of the bed, his uninjured side, and gently took his hand from where it lay on the blanket, the IV tube taped to his wrist along with a hospital bracelet.

"Daniel?"

Blearily, he opened his eyes. Whatever was dripping down the tube into his arm was strong and I was grateful, because that meant he wasn't hurting. A slow, heartbreakingly little-boyish smile tugged at the corners of his lips when he saw me. His fingers curled around mine.

"Hey." It was obviously an effort for him to speak through the haze of drugs and his eyes drooped as I reached up and cupped his jaw, stroking his cheek with my thumb. It was cool and rough with stubble. I could see faint rusty splotches on his skin where dried blood hadn't been completely washed away. The hospital staff had more important things to do. I'd wipe him down in a minute, but right now, I just wanted to be near him. I couldn't hold him like I wanted to because of his wound, I didn't want to hurt him, so I just held his hand, gazing at his face with my heart pounding in relief just to be with him.

"God, I'm glad to see you," I said softly. I had no idea if he could hear me or if he was deep in a drugged stupor, but the words had to come out even if I was the only one who heard them. "All I could think about sitting at the police station was you, how I can't stand to think of my life without you. I would've climbed the walls to get to you. When I saw you fall to the ground after Adkins shot you, a little piece of me died and it's been dead until now, looking at you..."

The lump in my throat choked off my words and I had to blink my eyes to keep the tears back. I was like someone who'd been asleep for years and years. I was finally waking up and all this emotion was flooding me and I didn't quite know how to deal with it. Part of me wanted to withdraw safely back into my shell and lock myself away, so I wouldn't have to feel this way; but the other part of me reached between the bars of the prison of indifference I'd locked myself in for so long. My heart wouldn't let me push Daniel away even if I wanted to.

His eyes fluttered open and he looked up at me with that faint glimmer of a smile. He tried to speak but the effects of the drugs were too strong to let him form words and a second later, his head dropped back and he was asleep again. But he heard me.

The new guard outside the door either didn't know the door should be cracked or he never looked at it. I'd expected him to burst in any minute calling security, but he didn't. I sat there on the edge of Daniel's bed holding his hand while he faded in and out of his painkiller-induced stupor for at least an hour, when the door finally opened. When I looked up, a short little Indian man in a doctor's jacket came in, followed by a tall man in a suit with an air of authority. I had a feeling this was FBI Agent Jensen, the man in charge of this operation. I met their eyes defiantly when they stared at me in obvious shock to see me here.

The FBI guy looked pissed. "How'd you get in here?"

I shrugged. I was certain he knew exactly who I was. "I'm very resourceful when I need to be."

Jensen turned to the door and spoke to the guard, who was hovering in the doorway looking baffled and alarmed that someone had gotten past him. "Call security."

"No," Daniel said clearly. We all turned our heads and looked at him. He still looked dazed, but he was much more alert than he'd been since I walked in the room. He held my hand tightly as he stared down the FBI agent with a trace of his usual self-assurance. "Rylan's not leaving. I wouldn't be here without him. He stays."

"This is a police matter and he's a civilian. He'll only get the in the way and disturb you."

"Actually, patients recover better with a loved one for support," the doctor said in his musical Indian accent. He turned to me and shook my hand. "Dr. Salman Advani. I know you from the news."

I introduced myself and he nodded, smiling with recognition. Thanks to Kat and CNN, I was a fucking celebrity. He approached Daniel's bed and I got up and moved to the window, sitting down on the ledge, while the doctor examined Daniel. I watched anxiously, with Jensen glaring at me the whole time. I could tell Daniel was struggling to stay alert amidst the drugs, but he did manage to ask the doctor exactly how badly he was injured. I listened carefully so if Daniel forgot something I could explain it later, when he was more coherent.

"The bullet entered your shoulder just below the rotator cuff, slightly above the armpit." Dr. Advani gently touched the wound to show both of us where it was; he waited until I'd come closer to the bed to watch before he continued. "The bullet was hollow-point; as you know they're designed to expand when they hit bone. It shattered the scapula and caused a large flesh wound both at entry and exit points. We gave you two pints of blood down in the ER, but blood loss and shock were minimized by immediate emergency response. You're very lucky, Detective. You could have died from this wound."

My knees almost gave way and I felt my stomach turn when he said that, but I managed to pull myself together for Daniel's sake. If I let myself, I'd probably pass right out.

"Your right arm will have to be completely immobilized for at least six weeks, until the fractures mend," Dr. Advani said. "There will be considerable pain and you might never regain full use of the arm. It's possible you won't be capable of handling a weapon after you recover."

Daniel's eyes darted to mine over the doctor's balding head. We both knew what that meant - the doctor was telling Daniel his career as a police officer was over. I couldn't say I was sorry to hear it but I tried to look sad for Daniel's sake. After all, this was his career, his life's work. I'd be devastated if a doctor told me I could never write again. Of course, as zonked as he was on morphine or Demerol or whatever was dripping into his arm, he might not even remember this conversation anyway and we'd have to break the news to him again.

"You're doing okay for now." The doctor looked down at Daniel and spoke loudly because he saw that Daniel was fading out again. "If you hurt, call the nurse. Okay?"

"Nod your head, Daniel," I added.

He nodded slowly and then his eyelids drooped. The doctor shook my hand again and departed, leaving me behind with one drugged-up patient and one very displeased FBI agent.

"I could have you arrested for sneaking in here."

Returning to my spot on the edge of the bed, I picked up Daniel's hand and stared at the agent's smug scowling face. He could fuck off.

"Since you're here," he said ungraciously, "we'll need to get a full statement from you. When he wakes up, he'll have to give us one too. We need to know everything that happened this morning."

"Sergeant Adkins. The guy I shot. He's alive, right?"

"Yes, he's alive. You either fucked up, or you're a good shot - for a civilian."

"I didn't fuck up. If I killed him, I killed everything he knows."

Agent Jensen nodded slowly, still frowning at me. "Shattered ribs, collapsed lung, on a respirator, but expected to make a full recovery. He'll be feeling fine by the time they send him to death row."

I nodded with grim satisfaction. I'd always considered the death penalty a seriously flawed aspect of our judicial system, but I wanted Adkins to pay for the lives he'd taken and the lives he'd ruined, and all for what? Greed, pure and simple. My part in this was small, very small. I'd make whatever statements and do whatever court appearances I needed to, and I'd support Daniel in everything he had to do; but when that was over, I'd watch with interest to see just how high up this corruption went and how many lives it touched. Adkins himself had to be just a player in the game. Somewhere, someone rich and powerful and important was pulling the strings. The nation waited anxiously to see who it was, to see if the truth ever came out. And without Daniel - I looked down at his groggy, drugged-out face on the pillow - without this man it would not have been stopped. One detective from a backwater city in Florida just wouldn't give up, even after they took everything away from him. The heroes in my novels had nothing on him.

"We'll cooperate fully as soon as Daniel's up to it." He shifted on the pillow and moaned slightly under his breath while I watched him closely. "But for now, I think you'd better just leave him alone until he feels better."

Jensen opened his mouth and started to protest and I knew exactly what he was going to say. He was in charge here, not me. But I let go of Daniel's hand long enough to go over to the door, holding it open while I stared at him. Finally, he just shrugged, let out a breath, and left.

"Ry?"

I was at Daniel's side holding his hand in seconds, my stomach clenching when I watched him struggling to open his eyes and focus on me through the pain and the drugs. "I'm here. Rest now, rest."

"Not leaving are you? Please stay."

I struggled not to let the tears form in my eyes. Loved him so much, felt his pain but so fucking happy he was alive and here with me. "I'll be right here, Daniel, I'm not leaving. I'll stay as long you need me."

"Need you always."

His fingers caught at mine and I held his hand tight as he drifted off. "Always works," I told him, smiling through the tears I finally let fall.

*****


Chapter 32

"I didn't want Rylan to be involved in anything dangerous, but I didn't like the idea of leaving while he was asleep either. That was Scott's idea." Daniel looked over at me before he continued for the FBI video camera. Jensen was in the room, along with the witness-debriefing specialist he'd brought in to take Daniel's statement. A lawyer from the Tallahassee PD's Internal Affairs Division was flying in and would be here this afternoon to discuss the case with Daniel as soon as he felt up to it. Things had to proceed very carefully because so many active-duty police officers were involved. "Scott convinced me it would be safer and faster if just the two of us went. Said we'd just run out, get the ammo box from the woods, and run straight back. I didn't even need my gun."

I'd been instructed not to speak while the camera was running, so I bit my lip to keep from asking what the fuck he was thinking. I didn't have to say it anyway. Daniel's eyes staring into mine, asking forgiveness, told me he knew.

"I had misgivings but I let him convince me. I don't know why I trusted him, maybe because he was in my unit in the Gulf and I didn't want to believe on of my own men would betray me. I didn't think he was capable of it."

That was something I didn't know before. Daniel didn't talk about that time in his life. He'd said Scott was Special Ops, but not that he was under Daniel's command. I didn't even know Daniel had a command. Now that I knew their history, I understood a little better why Daniel didn't question Scott's loyalty like I did. Daniel took the whole "band of brothers" thing seriously and he thought everyone else did too.

"After Rylan fell asleep, Scott and I made our plans. We left just before the sun came up. Alex loaned me his GPS cell phone so we could locate the coordinates of the ammo box. It was covered by snow so we had to search for it and then dig it up. We finally found it in a shallow culvert near the lake. We had just opened it to check the contents when I looked up and saw a Chicago city police officer walking up. I thought that was strange, but when Scott didn't seem surprised to see him, it all dawned on me."

I cringed. I almost didn't want to hear the rest of it.

"I closed the ammo case back up. Scott was standing there smiling at me and of course then I knew why he talked me into leaving Rylan behind and not bringing my gun. I knew I was fucked then. That's when Adkins came around the bend in the path."

"Did Detective Wyman say anything to you at this point?" the witness expert asked. She was a nice, motherly lady who told us to call her Leslie.

"Yeah. He thanked me for helping him dig." Daniel attempted a laugh and cringed in pain. They'd stopped the Demerol in his IV drip last night, and he skipped the last dose of oral pain medication so he could be lucid enough to do this. I didn't like it one bit. It'd only been forty-eight hours since the shooting. The intravenous antibiotics warded off infection and they were still monitoring his urine for signs of blood, in case they'd missed bone fragments that might cause him to clot elsewhere. It was a scary time and I'd wanted them to wait, but he insisted he could do it. When I asked him if he wanted to stop, he shook his head impatiently. "I'm okay. I saw Adkins coming and I knew this time he was going to kill me."

"How were you feeling then?" Leslie asked in her soothing monotone.

"Scared. I thought I was okay with dying, but it turns out I'm not." His lips twisted in a fleeting smile. Sweat began to mist his temples from the pain and the exertion of talking. "I didn't have a gun and I knew I was about to die. I did what they tell you in the Academy and started talking. I asked Scott about his wife and kids, how his sons would feel growing up knowing their father was a crooked cop, how they would live if his death benefits got taken away. He got agitated and drew his weapon. The situation was very unstable. Adkins was coming closer now, and I asked Scott if he thought Adkins was going to let him live knowing what he knew. I told Scott that neither one of us were going to walk away from this."

"And what happened then?"

"Adkins laughed behind me and said I was right."

"And what about the officer with him?"

"He had his weapon drawn but he didn't say anything. What happened to him anyway?"

"Scott shot him in the chest. He's in a coma," I answered softly from where I sat right next to Daniel's bedside. He nodded, drawing a breath from the pain. I winced. I hated this. Jensen watched from the other side of the room, not saying a word.

"Detective, what happened after Adkins told you that you were right?"

"Scott started talking to him. Trying to bargain with him. Saying he got Adkins the evidence like he said he would and he wanted his money, that they had a deal. He was screaming and yelling and waving his weapon around. Adkins told Scott it would be easier just to kill him and that was the plan all along anyway. Scott lost it then and fired his weapon. I don't think he hit anything and he started to run. The officer chased him and Scott fired another round and hit the other guy. He fell. Best I can remember, Scott went to finish him off and the cop shot him from the ground at close range."

This long speech exhausted Daniel and he stopped and closed his eyes, his breathing getting shallow under the hospital gown. I knew he was hurting and I asked Leslie if we could finish later. She said yes, but Daniel shook his head weakly.

"No, I want to finish," he said through pale lips. Arguing with him would've just drawn it out more so I sat back unhappily and let him continue. The only reason I even got to be here was that I'd already given my full statement in another room while Daniel slept.

"I tried talking to Adkins. I knew he was going to kill me so I tried to keep him talking as long as I could, asking him if he really thought he was going to get away with it, did he really think he could just eliminate everyone in his way. He's a smart son of a bitch though. He knew what I was doing. Last thing I remember was him laughing at me and raising his weapon. I don't know what happened after that. Not until Rylan was talking to me, and then I was getting into an ambulance. You came right before he shot me?" Daniel looked at me now, confusion in his eyes. "And you wounded him in the side?"

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